Monday, October 4, 2010

Subterranean Cell Phone Service You Say?

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Love or hate the prospect of it...underground wireless reception for the subway may have taken a significant step forward according to Businessweek.
"AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA customers will have mobile-phone service on New York City subway stations after the carriers signed 10-year agreements to access an underground network being built by Transit Wireless LLC."

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It has long been a big idea, but one taken with the dreadful prospect of the unleashing of thousands of cloying chatterboxes and neurotic attention-whores. Those of us who frequent the above ground portions of the subway system can attest to this at some level. Some—not all, some—chat loud, some chat long, and a rare few chat with the desperation of someone terrified of being alone with one's own thoughts, but it is not a mindless din of shouting matches coming from all sides. Now, with that said, there is no telling what Brownstone Brooklyn and Manhattan commuters are capable of when given license to make a phone call whenever and wherever at their own discretion.

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On the flip-side the sheer practicality of being able to be in touch in an emergency or when delayed. Plus there's an added advantage of having text message alerts be sent out for sudden service changes as well as subway train ETAs. Imagine a planned trip on the #6 on a weekend in winter. You check your phone for next arriving train. 15 minutes it says. Time better spent getting a cup of coffee and keeping toasty inside and above ground until your train is close to arriving. How much more efficient is this compared to having to wire, install and maintain electronic signs in each and every subway station when practically each and every rider has a portable "electronic sign" in their pockets. Efficiencies, streamlining, economies-of-scale. This the way to run a railroad.

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Speaking of which, Michael Klurfeld at makes an great observation on just how is thing going to be paid.
"What’s interesting about this particular network buildout is the funding scheme. New York City is not paying a dime of tax money for this. In fact, Transit Wireless is paying New York $46 million to install these devices. The money is coming from the wireless providers. Carriers who want their customers to have service in the station will have to pay a fee to TW.

The brilliance in this is in the marketing. Basically, if one carrier starts to pay for this service, New Yorkers who don’t want to be incommunicado while in transit are going to jump ship. The rest of the carriers know this. So they’ll start paying to use Transit Wireless’ service. So unless AT&T wants to lose its New York clients to Sprint, it’ll buy in for at least the same amount of coverage Sprint offers."
I do love it when good old fashioned marketing, incentives, and payment schemes can net out such benefits for the public. Very reminiscent of the brilliant idea of having Spanish firm Cemusa install and maintain bus shelters and newstands out of their own pockets in exchange for all revenues from the selling of advertising space on the said installations.

Now with all that said, I say bring it on. Just make sure you have your music player charged and good pair of headphones handy or those noise-canceling headphones available when those one-sided conversations start. Just sayin'.

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